Tag Archives: Pasta

Lasagne

Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.
~ Marthe Troly-Curtin, Phrynette Married

As I write this, layers of bolognese, mozzarella sauce & pasta sheets are bubbling away in our hot oven. Two lots of dishes have been washed by hand and the second lot now sits shiny and glistening on the rack. I may have been busy in the kitchen for the last couple of hours, but while I have been tracking how long each part cooks for, time itself has slipped by quietly and pleasurably so that I haven’t noticed my legs tiring of standing. The pleasure of cooking is a happy mystery that unfolds with every meal. Even on days when I am bone tired and find smashing and chopping sticky garlic cloves a most irritating affair – it seems that I am always ready for it again the next day.

Cooking is ordinary and predictable in one sense, yet thrilling and adventurous in another. Time passes quickly while you are forced to slow down … to

wash,

chop,

fry,

stir.

To

inhale,

observe,

taste,

share.

On that note … it’s dinner time.

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Caramelised onions, rapid ragù and a diary you should buy

Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.
~ Anne Lamott

Today has been one fantastic day.

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For a while now, I have felt a soul and body sensation somewhat akin to constant choking. There have been many moments where my mind kept saying “dooooon’t wooooorrryyy” or “sloooooow down!” while my body and heart fluttered with anxiety and insomnia.

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I really, really don’t want to see another night-to-day transition happen outside the window while the rest of New Zealand (except fellow insomniacs or night-shift workers) get to play in Dreamland.

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I guess the year’s been a little crazy. It’s been unspeakably wonderful in a thousand different ways, and it’s also driven me completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for seven months, and I’ve been in 12 cities in three countries this year. That’s not much for people on an OE or for people who love ongoing plan-less spontaneity, but I’m not either of those things.

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Right, first world problems.

Got it.

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They’re still a little tough :-o

(The First World Problem Lady Whines)

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Recently, in the midst of a dark passage of stress and insomnia, I came to a very important realisation. That now is the BEST time to learn contentment, resilience, calm and all those quality things.

Today, I woke up, peered into the mirror and said, “I like your life. I don’t want ANY OTHER.” After I said it, I was surprised to realise that I really meant it. I really wouldn’t want to be anyone else. I’m really happy being me, with my personality, strengths, flaws, relationships, circumstances and all.

And then a few really, really good things happened. I’m still smiling as I type this.

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One of those things is that I *finally* got my hands on a Kiwi Diary! My friend Cathy told me about them a few years ago, and for some reason they stayed elusive… until today! At Commonsense Organics they sat on the counter like they had been waiting for me all along (okay, slight exaggeration, but only a slight one)!

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It’s every bit as beautiful, compact and spacious as I wanted my 2013 diary to be. Don’t you want one too?

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Another good thing that happened today was that I felt in the mood to Cook Properly. Dinner was started and finished in an hour and turned out nicely, and my lovely flatmate Jono helped me to eat it AND booted me out of the kitchen afterwards to tackle the dishes :-)

Here’s the approximate recipe, if you’d like it. As always, I recommend cooking by sight, smell, taste and instinct.

    Pappardelle with rapid ragù and caramelised onions
    Ingredients:
    Caramelised onions:
    Olive oil
    2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
    pinch of cinnamon
    1 tbsp demerara sugar (or use normal)
    1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
    The rest of the dish:
    225g dried pappardelle (packet said 2 servings)
    1 tbsp butter
    3 cloves garlic
    450g mince
    1 sprig rosemary*
    1 sprig thyme*
    1 carrot, peeled and diced
    1 zucchini, diced
    400g canned diced tomatoes
    3 tbsp tomato paste or passata
    1/2 cup red wine
    Salt
    Black pepper
    3/4 tbsp demerara sugar (or use normal)
    Method:
    Over medium-high heat, glaze the bottom of a skillet with approximately 3 tbsp of olive oil. Once it’s warm, fling open the windows and throw in the onions. Cook for 15-20 minutes, adjusting the heat as required and stirring occasionally to avoid it burning. It should be smelling pretty great and turning slowly golden-brown. Add in a pinch of cinnamon, breathe in deeply. Stir well. After 5 minutes, add in the sugar and balsamic vinegar and cook for a further 5 minutes till it’s all rich, brown and soft. Pour them into a bowl.
    Turn the heat up again. Reusing the skillet, melt the butter, then add in the garlic and mince. Stir well, and add in the herbs. When the mince is partially cooked, add in the carrot and zucchini, and cook till the mince is just cooked. Then pour in the wine, tomatoes and tomato paste, lower the heat and let it all simmer for around 20-30 minutes. More time won’t kill it – just make sure it’s simmering and not splattering. At some point, stir in half of the caramelised onions (refrigerate the rest for another meal!), sugar and salt and pepper to taste.
    10 minutes before the sauce is due to be ready, bring water in a deep saucepan to a rolling boil. Throw in some salt, then add in the pappardelle and cook according to packet instructions or till al dente.
    Dish it up – pappardelle on plate. Ragù on top. Serve immediately.
    Yields 3 servings.

* I just used these because they were leftovers I had in the freezer – feel free to substitute with fresh / dried herbs you have on hand.

Warm orzo salad with roasted vegetables

She turned to the sunlight
   And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
   “Winter is dead.”
~ A. A. Milne, When We Were Very Young

One of the pleasures of living in Wellington: walking down to Harbourside Market on any Sunday morning and leaving with a bounty of goodness for a reasonable price. I also like the fact that the vegetables are likely to stay fresh for almost twice as long as their supermarket equivalents!

Last Sunday, I exchanged $9 for a bag of garlic, a bag of lemons, an aubergine, capsicums, zucchinis, and a generous selection of big and little tomatoes… I was a happy woman.

I cooked this mostly by sight, taste and feel, and the oven door opened and shut more than I usually allow for in one session of cooking, but hey – dinner got done, nicely, and that is what matters.

    Warm orzo salad with roasted vegetables
    Ingredients:
    1 cup orzo
    ½ onion
    1 aubergine / eggplant (use your favourite vegetables – pumpkin could work well too?)
    1 zucchini
    1 capsicum
    6 or more small tomatoes
    4 sprigs asparagus
    1 tbsp demerara / brown sugar
    1 lemon
    Olive oil
    1 tbsp butter
    Salt
    Pepper
    Ground chilli
    Paprika
    Dried mint (or torn fresh mint, if you have it)
    Fresh herbs of your choice (optional)
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a flat baking tray with aluminium foil or baking paper, and lightly grease it.
    Peel and dice the onion, and set aside. Zest half a lemon, and set aside. Cut off the ends of the aubergine, then slice it into rings approximately 1cm thick, and halve those rings. If you have time, sprinkle them with salt and leave them to sweat for about 30 minutes – this will tenderise the flesh, reduce any bitterness and make it less likely to absorb too much cooking oil later (I admit I skipped this step on this occasion, as we were hungry). Vertically slice the zucchini into 4 strips. Cut the capsicum into 6 pieces. Place these vegetables with the tomatoes into a bowl, add in some olive oil and toss to coat well.
    Arrange the aubergine, zucchini and capsicum pieces in a single layer on the baking tray, and place in the oven (on the centre rack, if possible) for 10 minutes. Then remove the tray, flip the aubergine slices and bake for a further 10 minutes. Once the aubergine pieces look nicely golden, remove them from the oven and place on a dish. Flip the zucchini and capsicum slices, add in the tomatoes, and replace the tray in the oven. After 10 minutes, take out the zucchini and capsicum. Lower the oven temperature to 150°C and leave the tomatoes to bake to perfection.
    All of this may sound terribly confusing, but it basically comes down to this: when the vegetables tell me they are ready with golden faces, I take them out. Also, tomatoes don’t mind staying in the oven for longer if you lower the heat before too long.
    Meanwhile, place some water in a deep saucepan and bring to the boil. Shake in some salt and the orzo, and cook according to packet instructions. Remove the orzo when it is about a minute from being completely cooked (after approximately 7 minutes of cooking), and drain off the liquid.
    Over medium-high heat, heat the butter (or use olive oil if you prefer), add in half a teaspoon of chilli and paprika each, and a pinch of dried mint – rubbing the mint between your fingers as you go. When you can smell the onion and it begins to turn translucent, break the asparagus sprigs into thirds and add them in. Sauté the lot for 2-3 minutes. Throw in the drained orzo and lemon zest, add in a dribble of water, allow it to be absorbed before adding in a little more (kinda like how you cook risotto), and cook this way until the orzo is cooked through. Stir in the demerara sugar.
    Pour the orzo and vegetables into a large bowl, add salt and pepper to taste, squeeze in the juice of a lemon. Add in chopped fresh herbs, if using. Toss the lot until well combined. Rescue the tomatoes from the oven, which should now be looking juicy and ripe to burst. Arrange them like jewels on an orzo crown. Serve immediately.
    Yields 3-4 servings.

Harbourside Market – Corner of Cable Street & Barnett Street beside Te Papa, Wellington – Phone: 04 495 7895

Prawns with Orzo, Tomato, Spinach and Feta

Life is a combination of magic and pasta.
~ Federico Fellini

One of the nicest emails you can get whilst travelling and missing your kitchen is an invitation to sample recipes from a (then) soon to be released cookbook. Especially one with such yummy-sounding dishes as “Warm Salad of Lamb, Asparagus, Spring Onions and Pomegranate Seeds with Lentil and Black Olives” and “Rolled Baklava with Orange Syrup and Greek Yoghurt”… I had a hard time deciding what to ask for!

Ultimately, I decided to request for the recipe for the “Prawns with Orzo, Tomato, Spinach and Feta” (original recipe included below) since I like every ingredient in that title and had never cooked orzo before.

It was a pleasure to cook this dish, simple yet good-looking, fresh and full of wonderful smells. I used a deep wok and modified the recipe slightly to suit what we had in our pantry (less spinach than the recipe specified, and herbs from a tube as opposed to fresh) – and used more prawns as I couldn’t find larger ones at the supermarket. Though I am sure it would have tasted even better had I followed the recipe properly, I also like that the recipe is pretty versatile and forgiving!

We had it with a squeeze of balsamic glaze, both pretty on the plate and complementary to the dish (I recommend it). Three of us ate our fill last night and we had plenty left over, which incidentally made for a delicious lunch for me today!

    Ingredients:
    16-20 large prawns, peeled
    Salt and freshly ground pepper
    1 1⁄2 cups orzo
    2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    2 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
    3 shallots, finely chopped
    9 spring onions, thickly sliced
    1⁄2 cup chicken stock
    5 large tomatoes, roughly chopped 1 cup passata
    200g crumbled feta cheese
    6 cups baby spinach leaves
    Small handful of torn fresh herbs such as dill, mint and parsley
    Extra virgin olive oil
    Method:
    Season prawns with salt and pepper.
    Cook orzo until done, toss in one tablespoon of oil and reserve.
    In a large heavy skillet heat the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add garlic and shallots and sauté for a minute. Add the spring onions and prawns, sear quickly, then remove prawns to reserved orzo. Add chicken stock, tomatoes and passata. Continue to reduce the liquid until mixture has thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper.
    Return the orzo and prawns, half the feta, and the spinach back into the tomato sauce and toss to combine. As soon as the spinach has wilted, scatter over the remaining feta, fresh herbs and glaze with olive oil.

Thank you, publicity team at The Second Black Dog Cottage Cookbook, for the chance to sample this winning recipe :-)

For more information on The Second Black Dog Cottage Cookbook, visit Phantom House Books or their Facebook page.

Cooking for one (spirals with fennel and anchovies)

Right food, right place, right time. It is my belief… that this is the best recipe of all.
~ Nigel Slater, The Kitchen Diaries

Recently, Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini wrote about cooking for one. Her post, and a serendipitous accident that happened in my skillet, prompted me to write this post.

Clotilde identifies a few ways that one might approach a Solo Meal Night, which I think of as:

    1. the “Cool, I get a night off – I’m just going to eat toast, or anything that requires minimal or no cooking/washing up” approach
    2. the “Ah! I finally get to cook what I want now that my husband/wife is AWAY! I’m going to have truffles, lobster, and all the great things he/she hates but I love” approach
    3. the “I’m going to have exactly what I feel like, and it’ll be delicious” approach

It’s interesting, isn’t it? This thing of eating alone? People seem divided about it. This activity doesn’t seem to be widely advocated. I mean, there are lovely books like Judith Jones’s “The Pleasures of Cooking for One” and Suzanne Pirret’s “The pleasure is all mine – selfish food for modern life” which remind you that there are people in the world who do cook and eat alone, and do it well and with enjoyment… but most of the time, the reality is closer to what Suzanne says:

“The images in most cookbooks and cooking shows nowadays help perpetuate the feeling that eating alone – especially eating well alone – is not really an option. The requisite denouement for almost all cooking shows includes a fantastically happy group of friends and family, heads thrown back in laughter with the mandatory Mmmmmms, Oohs, and Ahhhhhs, as they feast on the perfect spread – all in blissful, panoramic Technicolor. Your only hope is to be a part of that life one day… But until then, it’s anti-depressants and beans on toast for your sorry ass.”

Okay, I think her line on anti-depressants and beans on toast is a little extreme – but I’m not shaking my head at what she wrote either. It’s true, cooking for one isn’t often glamourised.

On some level, I think that’s a good thing.

I mean, I love and need time alone, but I do believe that even the most introverted introverts weren’t made to hide in a cave and eat by themselves for ever. Love and connection and cooking/eating together are to souls and minds what sunlight and water are to plants.

On the other hand though, you glean other treasures from cooking/eating alone too.

This year is the first year in a few years that I remember cooking and eating on my own so much, despite eating out a fair bit and cooking with others occasionally too. It’s been tough at times, therapeutic at others. Now that it’s no longer as unsettling for me, I notice different things more – my thoughts; the gradual darkening of the sky outside the window; the taste of food; selfishness; generosity; the mind-clearing powers of a clean kitchen.

In the last few years, I mostly cooked for flatmates, friends, boyfriends (they cooked for me too). I can’t really remember, off-hand, many solo cooking and eating nights. I DO remember the shopping lists. Meal planning. Bulk shopping. Catering to others’ tastes. The desire to make something delicious to feed the people I loved. Generous servings. The need for meat to be present when boys were eating at my table.

I think the cooking shows and books featuring eight beaming people around a food-laden table used to make more sense to me. I scarcely worried about food rotting in the fridge/pantry. I was fortunate to be able to go grocery shopping with a car most of the time.

So, when I moved to Auckland earlier this year, there were times when just the thought of going to the supermarket would evoke tears. I missed certain people. I missed the person I was when those people were with me. I got stressed about having to make time to walk there and back. I sighed about not knowing what the heck to make. I thought about recipes but let the thoughts go immediately because I didn’t want to eat the same thing every day for two weeks.

Yet, at other times, I was pretty happy about the situation I found myself in. I relished the thought that I could eat just veges if I wished, or poached eggs on toast every day for a week. I could spend four hours cooking, or order a pizza, and no one would mind. I could make a pavlova castle for dinner. The possibilities were endless.

As it is, I didn’t (and still don’t) follow a pattern. Mostly, I seem to keep a supply of eggs, garlic, herbs and spices, baking ingredients, dried pasta and parmesan cheese at home, and buy vegetables/meat/fresh produce every 2-3 days. I don’t really like frozen-anything as a rule, unless it’s dessert or soup for emergencies.

Sometimes I catch up with friends at cafes/restaurants/bars. Sometimes I cook two servings of a dish, and bring half of it to work the next day for lunch. Sometimes I eat instant noodles (yes, horrendous. I do it). Sometimes I eat more than I need to, like when I’m cold or sad or both. Sometimes I walk to the market on impulse just to get something fresh, then walk home and spend hours fussing over something elaborate. Sometimes I cook with the same ingredient for a week because I need to use it up. There are no rules.

On the accident I mentioned early in this post. The other evening, I was too tired/lazy to go to the supermarket, so I actually planned to just skip dinner and go to bed. But THEN I opened the fridge and spied the fennel I had bought over the weekend and forgotten about! And it was still green! Being tired, I just chopped and tossed mindlessly, not expecting much… so you can imagine I was pretty delighted when it turned out to be a pretty darn good toss-up!

I’m still very happy about it.

This is the approximate recipe:

    Heat some water in a saucepan. When it comes to a rolling boil, throw in some salt and pasta (I used large spirals) and cook according to packet instructions.
    While the water boils/pasta cooks, smash and chop 1-2 cloves of garlic, chop up 3 sundried tomatoes and dice 1/2 a fennel bulb. Zest half a lemon. Take out 5 anchovies (I used these).
    Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a pan. Add in the garlic and fennel and sauté for five minutes, then add in a heaped tablespoon of butter, the lemon zest, sundried tomatoes and anchovies. Shake in some dried basil (rub it between your fingers as you go; if using fresh basil, tear with your fingers and add in right at the end) and some chilli flakes. Continue to sauté.
    Rescue and plate the pasta (stir in a drizzle of olive oil if your pasta is sticking together). Pour the fennel and anchovy sauce over it, then add black pepper and parmesan to taste. Eat immediately.
    Yields one serving.

Lamb, anchovies and hunger

You have to be yourself. But you have to know who you are.
~ Sonia Rykiel

Sometimes, hunger leads you to the kitchen. If the dairy/supermarket/fast food restaurant doesn’t claim you first. You know what I mean about mad hunger? – the kind that causes temporary blindness and acute clumsiness in your haste to cram something… anything… into your mouth. Into your tummy. So you can think again. By the time you sink gratefully into your plushy couch, you have butter smeared across your favourite top and egg clinging to your hair, but you don’t care. You are in love with life, with domesticity, and with the world.

Sometimes, your loved ones lead you to the kitchen. You know what I mean again, no? When you love, you want to make something with your hands and feed the objects of your affection – whether they be friends, family or lovers. Cakes; seafood dishes; wine-drizzled medleys; chocolate surprises – all of that.

All sorts of things lead us to the kitchen. Insomnia. Happiness. Curiosity. Boredom. Excitement. Most of the time, it’s hunger or hunger + something else which propel us, inevitably, into the kitchen. To create, to love, to eat.

Of late, I don’t know what has led me to the kitchen. I’ve been out a lot, and in the times I’ve been home, I feel like I’ve wandered around in a daze a lot. I guess I’ve had a few Long Days – at the end of which I’ve come home with a tired brain, ready to fall into bed. I’ve showered mindlessly, cooked thoughtlessly, and it was only yesterday when a poached egg slipped and fell on the kitchen mat that I began to awake from my cloudy reverie.

This evening, while I was walking home nursing a headache, whatever it was really snapped – it’s hard to explain. It was like a brisk shower of hail fell upon my head – and I realised with a start that I wasn’t hungry at all. And that I hadn’t been properly, happily hungry in a while. (By this, I mean I haven’t recently felt that kind of hunger that leads to happy creating/self-nourishing/joyous dinner parties rather than the dull signal to the brain to eat or sighing at having to cook).

So I came home, sat on the floor and caught up on emails and all the other things you find to do online, a little puzzled by my uncharacteristic unhungry-ness.

A phrase (from an ad on the side, I think?) slipped past my eyes – “lamb and anchovies”.

Yuck, I thought. Then, restless, I shut my laptop, went downstairs, opened the fridge, flung open the pantry door. And I saw… a pack of diced lamb and – when I pushed a few things out of the way – a forsaken (but still healthy) jar of anchovies!

So I took out the forsaken (but still healthy) jar of anchovies, the pack of diced lamb, a bottle of leftover red, half a bag of spinach, and some rosemary. I fished around in the pantry – a lemon. Two cloves of garlic. Muscovado. Salt, pepper, chilli flakes. A random bag of almonds. Angel hair pasta.

I took out a knife, not really expecting much. But, you know, as my fingers touched everything and my nose was surprised by how nice everything smelled, it felt like a missing piece of my heart came back and slid right back in where it belonged. And I was properly hungry again by 8pm.

This was a spontaneous dish, so I didn’t record measurements – but I have attempted to be as accurate as possible below.

    Lamb, lemon and anchovy pasta
    Ingredients:
    2 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and chopped
    2 tsp anchovy oil
    4 anchovy strips, chopped (I used bottled anchovies)
    salt
    pepper
    1 tsp muscovado sugar
    chilli flakes
    ~ 130g diced lamb
    1/4 lemon – zest and juice
    1 sprig rosemary, leaves stripped and roughly chopped
    Handful of spinach, washed and chopped
    Handful of raw almonds
    Angel hair pasta (or spaghetti)
    Method to my madness:
    Place the lamb in a small bowl. Add in the chopped garlic, lemon zest, sugar, chilli flakes, rosemary, anchovy oil, anchovy bits and salt and pepper to taste. Mix with your hands, massaging the anchovy bits into the lamb, and set aside. (You will want to wash your hands well at this stage!)
    Roughly chop the almonds. Throw them into a skillet; briefly dry fry on medium high heat till they are fragrant. Take them out and set aside.
    Replace the skillet on the stove, add a tablespoon of butter, watch it melt and swirl it around – then add the lamb and pour in a dribble of red wine (I probably used about 1/4 cup tonight). Inhale. Let it cook for a minute or two, then stir occasionally so the lamb doesn’t burn. Add in more wine or water if it gets too dry.
    When the lamb is cooked, pour it all into a clean bowl – then add the spinach to the skillet and cook for approximately two minutes till they are just wilted (you can use a separate skillet if you prefer). Simultaneously, fill a saucepan with water (I boiled the water in a kettle and poured it into the saucepan to save time), throw in some salt and let it comes to a rolling boil before adding the angel hair pasta in. Allow to cook for two minutes, then drain it and toss with a drizzle of olive oil to separate the strands.
    Ladle the angel hair on to a plate, then add the spinach, the lamb and chopped almonds on top. Squeeze the wedge of lemon over the plate. Sit and eat.

Lamb and anchovies, together – you may be pleasantly surprised.

What is your Inspiration Dish?

PS. On that giveaway! – a sincere thank you to everyone who entered, and congratulations to Becs from Lovely Wee Days for winning this :-)

Fuss-free fettuccine

    Fuss-free fettuccine
    Ingredients:
    1 bowl cooked fettuccine, cooked until al dente
    1/4 lemon
    Flakes of parmesan cheese
    Dribble of olive oil
    A pat of butter (optional)
    Dried basil (optional)
    1 egg (optional)
    Black pepper
    Salt
    Method:
    Over a bowl of warm fettuccine, dribble a swirl of olive oil, add in the butter if using, and give it a quick toss.
    Add in the parmesan flakes. Squeeze the lemon wedge over the pasta, rub some dried basil between your fingers over it, season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss again.
    Gently poach an egg just the way you like it (I like mine with a firm white and runny yolk, though I am no expert egg-poacher so I just have to eat what I come up with) and place it on top of the pasta.
    Serve immediately. Instant gratification in a bowl.